05 July 2018

Review: New Amazonia by Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett

Trade paperback, 146 pages
Published unknown (originally 1889)
Acquired October 2013

Read May 2018
New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future
by Mrs. George Corbett
There is a town in Kansas, called Oskaloosa, of which the Mayor and other members of the Corporation are all women. Their first term of office has been so triumphantly progressive that they have been enthusiastically re-elected, and within twelve months the place has made such wonderful strides in the trifling matters of social morality, sanitation, and prosperity, that it is the wonder of surrounding towns. (131)
Utopian futures are always of their time, but feminist utopias are often even more so, I might suggest. Like, we want our feminist forebears to be awesome, but their feminism turns out to be quite unlike our own. Corbett's New Amazonia in 2472, into which the narrator is carried in a pretty typical Bellamy-esque dreaming fashion, is what used to be Ireland. It turns out that because Queen Victoria loved the Germans and the Scots more than the English (I did not know this was a thing), a Teuto-Scot hybrid race overran England. Eventually there's a war, where Ireland, France, Russia, and Austria ally against England, Germany, and Italy. The English alliance wins and France is conquered, but England is soon no longer England, as it is renamed Teuto-Scotland and becomes a republic, and also universal suffrage is introduced, and women begin occupying positions formerly only open to men.

Basically there were no Irish left at this point because of the wars, and so Teuto-Scotland sends its excess women to Ireland, which is renamed New Amazonia, an allied but independent state to Teuto-Scotland. Poor people aren't allowed in New Amazonia, there's a compulsory national costume (no corsets), divorce is legalized, marriage requires medical approval, and meat and tobacco are banned. Only unmarried women can hold positions of power.

So, it's like, huzzah for women, and I guess I can see the spirit behind women only rule, but Corbett's hate for the Irish and the Catholics, and prejudice against the Scottish and the Germans, is all very much of her time.

It's one of those books that's not a good read in a plot-based sense, but it is interesting, and it is short. Corbett's primary thesis is that women need to stop accepting the word of men as to the inferiority of their own sex: "it behooves my countrywomen to assert their rights and privileges without further delay," says the narrator as she reflects on her journey (132). There's a particular emphasis on the fact that it's not just men women struggle with, but the group Corbett calls "ladies," those well-off women who "despise and depreciate every woman who recognises a nobler aim in life than that of populating the world with offspring as imbecile as herself" (2).

But on the way we see a lot of other feminist Victorian social theory: it's better for women to have short hair (58), euthanasia is normal (72-3), crime is seen as a disease (75), motherhood is less honored than intellect (81-2), male adulterers are exiled (82), the offspring of vice are killed (82-3), there's international arbitration instead of war (87), elevators are banned because they make people lazy (117), telephones fell into disuse because listening from a distance is only a "spiritless amusement" (118), and no one believes Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays (127). It's a weird hodgepodge of ideas, and some might weird us out, and the killing of babies born out of wedlock horrifies even the narrator, so I'm not sure how to take it. Is it something Corbett wants but her narrator does not? Or does it indicate a darkness to Corbett's eugenic utopia?

Also there's a guy who time-travels along with the narrator, Augustus, whose main contribution seems to be bringing mansplaining back to the future. All the women make fun of him. Anyway, you'll read better books for sure, but you'll also read duller nineteenth-century utopias, so there you go.

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